COMMENTARY: Impeach Trump? Why top Democrats say it’s too soon

Billionaire Tom Steyer was outraged that Fox News stopped running his ads that call for the impeachment of the network’s most famous fan, President Donald Trump.

Fox claims the ads received “strong negative reaction” from viewers. That’s not hard to believe for Trump’s favorite network, especially after he tweeted his own predictable condemnation of Steyer as “wacky & totally unhinged, who has been fighting me and my Make America Great Again agenda from beginning, never wins elections!”

That last part is odd, since Steyer, a hedge fund manager-turned-environmentalist and the Democratic Party’s single largest donor, has not run for election, although he sounds like a man who might.

For now, Steyer accuses Fox News of censorship, but he’s moving on. From this week through New Year’s Eve, Steyer is spending $10 million on more ads — bringing his total reported personal spending to $20 million — including digital billboards in New York’s Times Square that call for the president’s impeachment for 10 minutes every hour.

That should make an interesting backdrop for crowd shots when the Times Square ball drops.

Meanwhile, back on the ground, Democrats are rushing ahead with impeachment efforts, mostly in the party’s left-progressive wing, even as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other top establishment Democrats try to put on the brakes.

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It’s not a question of “whether” to impeach, establishment leaders say, but “when.” Without strong, concrete evidence of impeachable offenses, they argue, the Republican-controlled House and Senate would make Trump’s removal from office all but impossible.

More pressing is the party’s need to win seats in next year’s midterm elections. Appearing to be too eager and overzealous in their opposition to Trump would play right into Republicans’ hands, party leaders insist.

They make a good point. Republicans overreached in their failed impeachment of President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. In the 1998 midterms, Republicans lost five seats in the House and barely broke even in the Senate. Clinton’s approval ratings, buoyed by a booming economy, actually went up.

These days, patience may be a virtue, but the Democrats’ restless left wing seems to think it is next to impossible, too. Trump’s impeachment has become for Democrats what the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, became to Republicans under President Barack Obama: an effective crowd-pleaser and rallying cry to fellow partisans, even when party leaders think it doesn’t have a chance to actually happen.

A week after Democrats scored unexpectedly huge election victories in the “blue wave” on Nov. 7, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an outspoken Trump critic from Chicago, joined fellow Democratic Reps. Steve Cohen of Tennessee, Al Green of Texas, Marcia Fudge of Ohio, Adriano Espaillat of New York and John Yarmuth of Kentucky to file articles of impeachment against the president. Green also stood with Rep. Brad Sherman, a California Democrat, when he filed the Trump era’s first articles of impeachment in July.

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“If we failed to file these articles of impeachment,” Gutierrez said, “we would be failing at doing our jobs.”

And the grounds for impeachment? Some Democratic lawmakers cite the president’s one-on-one meeting with former FBI Director James Comey in which Trump, according to Comey, tried to stop the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn and possible collusion with Russia during the 2016 presidential election. Among other offenses, would-be impeachers cite the president’s alleged use of his office to direct business to the companies that his family owns.

As you may have noticed, the party’s internal divide over whether to impeach follows familiar lines between the pragmatic establishment that backed Hillary Clinton’s nomination and the mavericks who prefer the likes of Bernie Sanders.

That poses a delicate dilemma for leaders such as Pelosi: How do you cool down the party’s impatient progressives without dampening the energies that can help win elections?

Pelosi has taken the Napoleonic position of trying to avoid getting in the GOP’s way as it busily destroys itself. Referring to special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian contacts with the Trump campaign, Politico reports that she told a Democratic leadership meeting earlier this year, “The proof is in the Putin.”

Indeed, Trump’s stumbles and unorthodox leadership style have made valuable contributions to his political opposition. But, as sober minds persistently point out, being anti-Trump is not enough. Democrats also have to show how they can bring Americans a better future.

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